The Greatest Victory
Canada's One Hundred Days, 1918
J. L. Granatstein
The battle of Vimy Ridge in April 1917 is a much celebrated moment in both Canadian and European military history. Vimy was a costly success. While it did improve military and public morale, the reality is that it was more of a symbolic victory than a strategic one (the Germans retreated a few
miles and many lives had been lost).
Surprisingly, few Canadians are familiar with the real story of Canadian military success and sacrifice: the Hundred Days that led to the end of the war. Beginning on August 8, 1918, the Canadian Corps launched a series of attacks that took Amiens,
crossed the Canal du Nord, smashed the Hindenburg Line, took Cambrai and Valenciennes, and defeated a quarter of the German Army in the field. On the morning of August 8, following the Canadian-led attack, German commander and joint head of the German army Erich Ludendorff called it "the Black Day
of the German Army." In the hundred days that preceded the Armistice on November 11, 1918, the Canadian Corps made its greatest contribution to the Allied victory in World War 1 and, without question, the greatest contribution any Canadian force has ever made in battle. The 100,000 soldiers of the
four Canadian divisions fought a mobile war that was revolutionary in its effectiveness and, as Jack Granatstein argues, would influence the course of subsequent fighting, particularly in World War 2. With 45,000 casualties in three months (almost a quarter of Canadian casualties during the whole
four years of the war), however, the costs were heavy.
These Canadian-led assaults changed Allied fighting from static defensive positions to a war of mobility, technology, and smart coordination. How did Canadians come to lead these mobile, well-coordinated, and hard-hitting attacks? The
preparations were intense, according to Granatstein, ranging from individual training to massive corps-wide exercises; careful analysis of "lessons learned" studies; expansion of the role of signallers, gunners and engineers; and perfection of techniques like the "creeping barrage." The "fire and
movement" philosophy emphasized by Sir Arthur Currie, Commander of the Canadian Corps, increased the use of tanks, machine guns, Stokes mortars, and phosphorus bombs, among other military hardware. Mobility was the key; Canadians used their two Motor Machine Brigades - with guns and mortars mounted
on armoured cars and trucks - with great effect.
Granatstein is an award-winning historian who has received six honorary degrees for his work on conflict and Canadian history. He is a gifted writer with a profound understanding of the historical and political context of World War I, as
well as the many factors that played into the complex events in the final days of the war. These factors include complex politics, the logistics of large-scale battles, the personalities organizing the battles, and even the specific weather and geography that influenced battle outcomes. Perhaps most
important is Granatstein's excellent selection of soldiers' own description of their experience on the ground, in his use of the Canadian Letters and Images Project. In addition to these perspectives, events are recounted from a variety of angles, including that of Canada's most famous General, Sir
This new account of Canada's one hundred days will displace Vimy as the moment to remember about how the Great War was won - with difficulty, determination, and sacrifice.
Readership : Students and scholars of conflict studies and Canadian history will be fascinated by this carefully researched book full of new insights about the role of Arthur Currie, the Canadian Corps, and the changing face of military warfare in the latter stages of World War 1.
1. Amiens, August 8, 1918
2. Canada and the War
3. Breaking the Drocourt-Quéant Line
4. Crossing the Canal du Nord and Taking Cambrai
5. Valenciennes and Mons
6. To Germany and Home
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J.L. Granatstein is Distinguished Research Professor Emeritus in the department of History at York University. Granatstein's scholarship has won numerous awards. In 1992, the Royal Society of Canada awarded him the J.B. Tyrrell Historical Medal for "outstanding work in the history of Canada."
In 1996, the Conference of Defence Associations Institute named him winner of the Vimy Award. In 1996, he became an Officer of the Order of Canada, and he won the National History Society's Pierre Berton Prize in 2004 and the Organization for the History of Canada's National History Award in 2006.
He has received honorary degrees from the University of Western Ontario, the University of Calgary as well as Memorial University of Newfoundland, McMaster University, Niagara University, and Ryerson University.
- History in Action. Granatstein is an award-winning historian and astute media commentator, who is also a gifted writer and researcher. From life on the ground for new recruits to the logistics of moving a hundred thousand soldiers at night, this is a compelling and fast-paced
- Draws on first-hand accounts of Canadian soldiers. Granatstein is one of the first historians to make full use of the Canadian Letters and Images Project; some of these accounts by Canadian soldiers are published here for the first time.
- Richly illustrated. With a two-page colour inserts
at some 50 black and white illustration, the reader finds a strong visual context to accompany the text.
- The first high-quality history of the hundred days of key battles of World War 1, as experienced by Canadian soldiers. History remembers the Canadian contribution to the battle of Vimy Ridge
but arguably the most important battles were in the final one hundred days of 1918. It is one of our main contributions to any battle, and would change the course of future warfare.
- Victory. The book describes a great military triumph, but avoids the triumphalist tone that might weaken this kind
of an account. Granatstein does not gloss over expensive mistakes.
- Canadians as masters of fighting, engineering, and organizing. Canadians were not just considered an elite fighting force, but equally were known for their logistics and engineering (in those days, Canadians could design and
construct in record time highly effective rail-lines needed to transport people and machinery).
- Insights into the expanding role of military hardware. Canadians had no qualms about the heavy use of new technologies, perfecting the use of Lewis guns, machine guns, phosphorus bombs, Stokes mortars,
and phosphorus bombs.
- Fascinating look at the logistics of large-scale battle. Granatstein highlights the importance of intelligence, planning, aerial mapping, knowledge of enemy positions, and engineering; Canadian Corps Commander Arthur Currie knew logistics alongside tough, well-led soldiers,
were the key to success. Maurice Pope observes that his staff had just four days to prepare the enormously complicated attack on the Drocourt-Quéant line.
- From unanticipated treats to unanticipated squalor. Read about the highs and lows (and very lows) of army life in the days before pesticides
and antibiotics. From the ways anxious and often bored soldiers maintained their sanity to an impressive array of parasites, Granatstein does not back away from any spine-chilling detail.